hard rock

REVIEW: Def Leppard – B.Sides (CD Collection Volume 3)

Part Thirty-Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – B.Sides (CD Collection Volume 3 Disc 4) (2021)

It’s somewhat irksome that this disc wasn’t titled Rarities 5 to maintain continuity with the previous two box sets.  Alas, this disc is titled B.Sides (probably so the artwork jives with the X album) even though it contains more rarities than just single B-sides.  Quibble aside, let’s dive in with an important caveat:  Many of the tracks on this disc are from the X era, which did not rate well in this series thus far.

Two inconsequential radio edits begin the CD:  “Now” and “Long Long Way to Go”.  In the case of “Now” that could be an improvement, though less than 10 seconds were chopped from the song.  Credit due:  when the song starts cooking after the first chorus, that guitar riff is pretty awesome.  “Long Long Way To Go” suffers more in the radio edit context, losing 38 seconds, ending abruptly with a quick fade.  A better version is still to come on this disc.

From there we move on to the Japanese and UK X bonus track “Kiss the Day”.  This song is generally acclaimed by fans as a tune that would have improved the album in general.  It has a riff to it, but then slows right down into ballad territory.  It recovers on the psychedelic chorus but it’s a bit uneven.  There’s a smoking solo worth noting in the burning ending section.

B-sides galore next!  Some of these tracks were hard to collect at the time, at least in North America.  “10 X Bigger than Love” from one of the “Long Long Way to Go” singles would have been awesome had it been on an album, but it’s too rock and roll for X.  Leaving it off an album was a mistake.  “10 X Bigger than Love” was considered a keeper by Joe but the other guys in the band didn’t like it as much.  “Love Don’t Lie” is Joe’s demo version of the album track, previously released as one of the B-sides to the “Now” single.    It doesn’t have the chorus production of the album version, but might actually be more interesting for that reason.  Apparently they were going for a Seal vibe similar to “Crazy”. Close but no cigar.

The included demo of the ballad “Let Me Be the One” (another “Now” B-side) is so much more raw and genuine than anything on the X album.  It should have just been released as-is!  They didn’t have to muck it up for modern audiences.  This one has so much more heart and genuinity.  Joe’s Cybernaut friend (and Bowie’s bandmate) Dick Decent handled the difficult piano part.  The rocker “Gimme a Job” (from the “Long Long Way To Go” single) is a pretty simple but gets the job done for a B-side.  Why so simple?  The other guys didn’t care for it, so Joe played everything — including the guitar solo!  It might be a bit similar to a previous B-side called “When Saturday Comes”.

The last B-side in this chunk of songs is an acoustic version of “Now”, also included on the “Long Long Way to Go” single.  Though it lacks that chunky riff section that we all love so much, it also lacks the digital bleeps and bloops from the original.  Unfortunately, this acoustic version proves the song just isn’t all that great at its core.

The stripped down acoustic version of “Long Long Way to Go” does the opposite.  This is a real rarity from the Japanese printing of the X album.  A truly great song (though they didn’t write it), and this is really the definitive version.  Easily superior.  They didn’t have to go all-in with the production, and here’s more proof.  This is the same recording, just with all the junk removed.  Great to finally be able to get this version easily now.  It should have been on the album and the other version released as a remix.

In another slightly irksome move, the CD jumps ahead in time here, only to jump back on the next song.  Moving forward in time to the album Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, it is the much demanded “Joe Only” version of “Nine Lives”.  This valuable Japanese bonus track should have been more widely available from the start, so in-demend was it over the “Joe and Tim McGraw” version on the album.  This is the song as it always should have been!  Hard rocking, chunky, upbeat, and fun.  Not a single bad thing about it.

Then back in time for the final X track:  “Perfect Girl”.  Much like the previously released download-only 11 song live set, you could grab this song for free from the official Def Leppard site.  A big thank-you to Def Leppard for being so proactive and fan-friendly in the early internet days.  “Perfect Girl” is a superior demo version of the song “Gravity” and has never been released physically until now.  When we say it’s the “superior” version”, let’s just add that it’s less boy-band-y.  It’s still not all that great, just…not as bad.

Finally, the last of the tracks is the other Japanese bonus track from Sparkle Lounge.  This is a piano version of the album epic “Love”.  Those who thought the album could have used a ballad will enjoy it.  “Love” is notable as one of Joe’s best vocal performances and now you can hear it adorned only with backing piano.  The album version will remain the go-to since it’s so big and bombastic, but this a nice Queen-like alternate version that the diehard fans will enjoy.

Though a bit X-heavy, this excursion into Leppard B-sides was a better listen than that album.  Collecting them all was a pain in the behind, so having them all in one place (plus the one that was download-only!) is a brilliant solution.  Wish it was “rarities” and was in stricter chronological order, but the disc checks off a ton of boxes for collectors.

3.5/5 stars

 

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah! – Record Store Tales
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)
  36. Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (DVD)

Next:

38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings
42. Viva! Hysteria (DVD & CD 1)
43. Viva! Hysteria (CD 2 & Bonus features)
44. Slang (2014 Deluxe bonus tracks)
45. “Helen Wheels” (from The Art of McCartney)
46. Def Leppard (Deluxe and Japanese versions)

 

REVIEW: King’s X – “A Box” (1996 CD single)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 8.5


KING’S X – “A Box” (1996 Warner Germany CD single)

In 2022, the “King’s” are returning, so today let us look back on some of their fine 90s output.  1996 was the year of Ear Candy, the progressive giants’ most commercially accessible album to date.  It was produced by Canadian Arnold Lanni (ex-Frozen Ghost, Sheriff) and the songs were straightforward and hook-based compared to what came before and after.

Last year, we curated some King’s X lists with Martin Popoff right here, and he rated the single “A Box” in his top five.  The version included on this single is an edit, over a minute shorter than the album cut, with the cut material being mostly outro.  Dug Pinnick is always passionate but you can really feel him on “A Box”.  “There is no room inside a box,” goes the chorus, and one has to wonder if this box is one to break out of, to retreat to, or both.  The song gives voice to loneliness and anger, but also sings of “a place to run and hide, just a place to free your mind.”  It is a ballad with strong lyrics, unforgettable melody, Ty Tabor’s signature guitar glow, and an absolutely wicked Jerry Gaskill drum sound, thanks to the magical knob-twiddling touch of Arnold Lanni.

One album cut is included, which is “Looking For Love” from Ear Candy, another one of its strongest tunes.  This one smokes of anger and frustration.  It also contains the key lyric, “I guess I lost my faith,” which is true.  Dug was once Christian but left the church around Dogman.  Yet it’s also melodically one of the strongest songs, which helps back up that killer Ty Tabor riff.

The non-album B-side is a rarity called “Freedom”.  Unlike the album which was recorded with Lanni in California, “Freedom” came from a self-produced session in Houston.  Sonically it does not fit with the boldly in-your-face Ear Candy, but it does offer another Ty Tabor lead vocal.  It’s a bit more sparse and hard-hitting, but still boasts the patented King’s X harmony vocals on the chorus.  There’s a cool melody buried in the outro too.  Overall, it is not as strong as Ear Candy as a whole, but as a bonus track, it’s more than adequate.  Ty’s singing will be the highlight for many fans as he really goes for it.

Great single, and thank you Martin Popoff for inspiring the purchase.

4.5/5 stars

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 8.5 – “A Box” (1996 CD single)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)
Part 13 – PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 Ty Tabor)
Part 14 – Manic Moonlight (2001)
Part 15 – Black Like Sunday (2003)
Part 16 – Ogre Tones (2005)
Part 17 – XV (2008)

RE-REVIEW: Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (2009 DVD)

Part Thirty-Six of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original ReviewCMT Crossroads (2009)

Dedication (noun):  The character trait of being so devoted to a project that you will watch the Taylor Swift & Def Leppard DVD one more time, even though you reviewed it once before and swore you’d never watch it again.

TAYLOR SWIFT & DEF LEPPARD – CMT Crossroads (2009 Walmart exclusive DVD)

You can blame Rick Allen’s brother for this DVD.  How did pop country songstress Taylor Swift and Def Leppard hook up?  Taylor was on tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill whose tour manager was Rick Allen’s brother. You might recognize McGraw from the song “Nine Lives” on Leppard’s last album Songs From the Sparkle Lounge.  Swift expressed interest in doing an episode of CMT Crossroads with Leppard and eventually they made it happen.  Lucky us.

The DVD starts immediately, no big long intro, with “Photograph”.  In a democratic way of doing things, it’s a Def Leppard song to open, but Taylor Swift getting the first lines.  Her smooth voice doesn’t sound right with Screamin’ Joe’s vocal lines, and takes some getting used to with these songs.  You can’t really hear her fiddle player or acoustic guitarists on “Photograph” but they sure are having fun.

The concert is intercut with interviews that help bring the context to this odd collaboration.  Taylor was born two years after Hysteria, but was exposed to Leppard’s music from birth.  She had been wanting to do a show with Leppard for some time so she made it happen.  It’s also fun watching her learn British slang.

Taylor’s “Picture To Burn” is…well, it’s a song about some guy who drives a pickup truck, it seems.  No matter how much they try to convince us that Leppard and Swift are not all that different, they sure are.  “Love Story” is more like a Leppard ballad and isn’t so hard to swallow.  Finally we get to “Hysteria” which works remarkably well as a duet.  Taylor’s vocals add rather than subtract.  You can actually hear certain parts of her massive backing back on this as well, plinking here and fiddling there.

A blues jam about Taylor’s boy trouble is amusing.  “Teardrops On My Guitar” is a nice song, a little more understated and quiet.  Stage choreography seems important with so many band members on stage, and they all seem to have their places and times.  Leppard’s ballad “When Love and Hate Collide” is one song that is the most transformed by the collaboration.  It sounds at home in both worlds.  Taylor reveals she’s long had an obsession with this hit.  It’s very fun to see Joe give her the last line of the song too.

Taylor’s “Should’ve Said No” is upbeat and twangy.  A little bit rock and roll, something a little more familiar.  There’s a great march-like arrangement towards the ending, and then the drums start thumping and you know what that means.  “Pour Some Sugar On Me” has never sounded like this before.  Fiddles and double drums…it actually sounds pretty good.  And that’s the closing song of what is a fun but definitely jarring set of hits.

The three bonus tracks are “Our Song” (written in 9th grade for Taylor’s highschool talent show), “Love” (new Leppard song), and “Two Steps Behind”.  These Taylor songs really take some effort to digest when you’re a Leppard fan, until Joe starts singing at least.  Giving her credit, Taylor sure knows how to command an audience, but it’s irritating to see Vivian ripping up the fretboard, but being unable to hear him in the mix.  More interesting is “Love”, the only choice from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge.  It really benefits from all the extra backing singers and musicians, becoming something really big and huge.  The final bonus track “Two Steps Behind” has eight guitar players and a nice intro from Joe explaining how the song was written electrically in 1989 to become a hit acoustically later in 1993.

To Def Leppard fans at least, some of the best content might be contained in the bonus interviews.  It’s clear Leppard had a new but genuine appreciation for Taylor Swift and how her songs are constructed.  They discuss all the things they have in common with Taylor, such as age.  Rick Allen turned 16 opening for AC/DC and Taylor of course released her first hit album at 16.  Allen reveals his parents were supportive of him leaving highschool in order to tour with Def Leppard, but made him get a tutor.  They understood that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Both artists discuss what it’s like to be pigeonholed into a genre be it “country” or “heavy metal”.  But the coolest thing is the foreshadowing of Leppard’s new album Diamond Star Halos.  “You know who else is a huge Def Leppard fan?  Alison Krauss,” reveals Taylor.  And in 2022 she too collaborated with Def Leppard.

In addition to the interviews, there’s a press conference with Joe, Phil and Taylor where they discuss their history with each others’ music.  They are obviously having fun with their collaboration, even if you are not.  One of the things Joe says is that they would love to work with Taylor in the studio any time anywhere.  Rather than ask why this hasn’t happened any time in the last 13 years, let’s just be glad it hasn’t.  This is a difficult DVD for the Leppard fan to finish in one sitting so let’s just be glad that’s all there is.

2.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah! – Record Store Tales
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)

Next:

37. B-Sides
38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Live at Donington August 17, 1996 (2022)

 – Off the Soundboard – Live at Donington (Monsters of Rock) (August 17, 1996 – 2022 Universal)

Third in the Off the Soundboard series, and we are gifted an original lineup show.  Reunion era, we add with a caveat, but an original lineup gig nonetheless.  This was a big one:  Monsters of Rock in 1996.  This gig is only 11 days after the Toronto show at which I saw Kiss, and the setlist is simply a shortened version of what we saw earlier.

Opening with “Deuce”, the reunited Kiss don’t sound vintage, but they do sound professional and hot.  The immediately noticeable flaw in the mix is an overly prominent bass.  Demon fans might love it!  Frehley’s guitar brings that almost-out-of-control quality that we miss today.

The simplicity of the drumwork on “King of the Night Time World” reminds us that the Catman Peter Criss is back on drums.  That’s all good.  After hearing Eric Singer on the past two instalments of this series, the Catman’s looser feel is refreshing.

Then an F-bomb from Paul:  “WOOO!  How you doin’ Donington!  You all ready to get a little fuckin’ nuts tonight?  You want a little rock and roll?”  Then it’s “Do You Love Me”, not usually one of those songs you go fuckin’ nuts on, due to its deliberate tempo.  I could usually skip it, but this version is pretty good.  That overloud bass makes it a bit heavier.  The backing vocals are also quite good.  “Dr. Love” has that patented Peter Criss pitter-patter on the drums that we can all admit we miss.

The Starchild seems to have a blast singing the word “Donington” over and over again just before “Cold Gin”.  Gotta admit this is a great album for Paul’s stage raps!  It’s Ace’s turn to shine, in that overdriven, on-the-edge style that nobody can copy.  It’s like chocolate it’s so good.  The Space Ace gets to sing a verse on his own, which is a perfect touch.  An album highlight.  Perhaps the best live version of “Cold Gin” available since the original Alive!

The original Kiss tear into “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll” and Gene’s voice is a bit rough at first…as it should be, 100% live.  There’s nothing like this song with Ace and Peter on drums.  Again, perhaps the best live version since the original Alive!  “Shout It Out Loud” is a bit more polished.  But if you want heavy, look no further than the thunderous “Watchin’ You”.  The vintage Kiss vibe is captured as they thump through this in a completely different way than they did four years earlier on Alive III with Bruce Kulick.  Another contender for best live version available since Alive!  Previously that honour went to the Alive III version.  Simmons is, pun intended, a monster on both tasty bass fills and meaty vocals.

“Firehouse” is simple fun, but once again, the Space Ace adds something that other guitar players do not have, which is nothing against any of them.  It is a matter of style, and the style that suits Kiss best.

Kiss turns the microphone over to Ace Frehley on “Shock Me”, which also doubles as his feature guitar solo.  You can hear every mistake, and even they are perfect in their own, flawed diamond sort of way.  This solo is pure smoke and fire, like a meteorite barrelling through atmosphere.  Perhaps the best stage version of “Shock Me” out there, arguably surpassing Alive II.

Over to disc two, it’s finally time for “Strutter”.  Paul’s stage rap is amusing if only because he says Kiss are having such a great time back together that they don’t know if it’s ever going to end.  Ah, hindsight.  This is a fantastic version only hampered by that overloud bass in the mix.  Vocals are outstanding.

Simmons takes center stage for his “bass solo” and “God of Thunder”.  A Simmons bass solo usually works best as a visual, not musical experience.  (Animalize Live bass solo notwithstanding.)  While you don’t necessarily want this stuff edited out of a live bootleg, it’s basically waiting for the song to start.  Gene is extra-growly on “God of Thunder” and Frehley is hotter than hell.  Stanley’s prominent backing vocals add an extra dimension.  And Peter’s got that beat nailed down like a beast.  He gets his drum solo on this track, a slow and tribal experience similar to, but not as energetic as, his Kiss Alive solo.

When Paul starts talking about size of his pistol, then you know it’s time for “Love Gun”.  Drowning in bass, but fiery hot.  Speaking of bass, “100,000 Years” is top notch too.  Do you feel alriiiiight?  Frehley’s soloing on the track is an essential ingredient.  The closing trio of “Black Diamond”, “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll all Nite” are somewhat predictable, but it’s bizarre that we had to wait this long to hear Peter Criss sing lead on something.  As for “Detroit”, easily one of the top five live versions on official release.

This set is pure electric vintage Kiss from 1974-1977, and nothing beyond.  No “New York Groove”, no “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.  No “Beth” either.  If you’re going to cut a track for time for the festival, “Beth” is one to cut.  Though sometimes hampered by the bass heavy mix, it is possible that Live At Donington is the best Kiss live album since Alive II.  The reunited lineup were certainly a lot better than I remember them being back in 1996, when I thought they sounded stiff.  With hindsight, though Peter is steadier than before, Frehley still provides all that danger that is necessary in a live Kiss show.  At Donington, the original Kiss brought it.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: The Forrest Williams Democracy – “In Service of the Greater Good” (2022 single)

THE FORREST WILLIAMS DEMOCRACY – “In Service of the Greater Good” (2022 single)

Anybody who ever dug Big Wreck (and there are lots of you) should be checking out The Forrest Williams Democracy.  Williams was the drummer on the first two essential Wreck albums with the original lineup.  After the band dissolved in 2002, Williams settled down into a family life.  Rock and roll always beckons again, and in this case it came in the form of musician Scott Maybee.  Together with original Big Wreck producer Matt DeMatteo, the new song “In Service of the Greater Good” was released twenty years after the original Big Wreck ended.  So whatsit sound like?

The Forrest Williams Democracy has an uncanny knack for a Soundgarden aura, circa Badmotorfinger and Superunknown.  A lot of that has to do with the vocals (shared between Maybee and DeMatteo).  Powerful with range, but also subtlety.  The riffs (and there are a few!) are heavy.  And as for the drums?  If you listen to this and the first Big Wreck, you can hear that it’s the same guy.  The style, and the thump, remains.  “In Service of the Greater Good” is a complex, multi-faceted heavy rocker, but also with the acoustics and added textures that you would hope for.  Sabbath and Zeppelin are named as influences and you can hear both seeping through the speakers.  You can sense the Bonham influence on Williams, but the Zeppelin also comes out clearly in acoustic sections.  Meanwhile the lead guitar work would make Iommi smile.

“In Service of the Greater Good” is more than just the influences.  There’s a lot going on here — some serious musical ambition.  There was clearly no intent to just write some rock song for the summer.  This is impressive stuff.  The vocals are outstanding.  The musically-inclined will enjoy all the changes and tempos, while the rest of us can just pump our fists when the heavy parts come!  Great tune that has the feeling of an album side-ending closer epic.  We hope an album will follow.

In the meantime, you can check out the Forrest Williams Democracy on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.  They also have shirts for sale.  Hope more is coming.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Raw – ‘That Little Ol’ Band From Texas’ Original Soundtrack (2022)

ZZ TOP – Raw – ‘That Little Ol’ Band From Texas’ Original Soundtrack (2022 BMG)

In 2019, ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill was still alive, and filmmaker Sam Dunn brought us the critically acclaimed documentary That Little Ol’ Band from Texas.  The film was cherished for a number of reasons, not least of which was the music, old and new.  A big part of the film was seeing the modern-day ZZ Top jamming away on their classics.  And it was clear they lost nothing.

With Dusty gone, it’s appropriate to release his final recordings as the soundtrack to the documentary.  As the title boldly states, this is ZZ Top raw, playing live in the studio, as only they could.  12 tracks; nothing beyond Eliminator.  Every song a classic.

Going back to the first album, “Brown Sugar” opens with some amp hiss and seriously bluesly licks from Billy Gibbons.  Raw yes, but also crisp and clear with plenty of bottom end.  These are not simple re-recordings, nor are they vastly different re-imaginings.  They are just 12 tracks of ZZ Top playing hard and heavy, backed with modern equipment and techniques.  The groove flows right through the speakers like jelly.  Sonically the tracks are heavier simply because of the modern equipment, though they are still…you guessed it…raw!  Dusty’s bass on “Just Got Paid”…oh man.  Track after track of familiar rock will hit your ears, satisfying your need for that dirty greasy blues that ZZ Top peddle in.  Jamming solos, rolling bass and luscious blues licks await within.

As far as surprises go, there are not many, but it is fun to hear “Legs” done in this raw settling.  The sequencers are there but back in the mix.  It’s much more rocking.  Interesting to hear no backing guitars when Billy is soloing.  “Gimme All Your Lovin'” benefits similarly from the raw treatment.  No sequencers here, just guitars, drums and bass.  No loss either.  A slow jam version of “Thunderbird” is another treat.  Finally, it’s a blast to hear Frank Beard playing hard on the surf rock of “Tube Snake Boogie”.

From rockers, to blues rockers and just plain ol’ blues, this album contains a nice cross section of songs from 1971 to 1983.  Arguably, the essential years.  While not essential itself, ZZ Top Raw should make your purchase list.  It’s an excellent set of recordings, of some of the best ZZ Top songs, with modern fidelity and of course, the last of Dusty Hill.  You loved it when you saw ZZ Top jamming these tunes in the film.  Now you can own the soundtrack.  So get on it!

4/5 stars

Thanks to John T. Snow for kindly gifting this copy!

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – “C’Mon C’Mon”(2008 12” picture single)

Part Thirty-Five of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original Review “C’Mon C’Mon” (2008 12″ picture single)

DEF LEPPARD – “C’Mon C’Mon” (2008 12″ Mercury picture single)

We haven’t reviewed many actual Def Leppard singles in this review series.  Why?  Because we reviewed the CD Collection box sets in detail instead, which do an excellent job of collecting all the albums and B-sides from specific eras.  This picture disc for “C’Mon C’Mon” from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge is one single for which the B-side has yet to be issued in box set form.

The B-side in question is a live version of “Rocket” from an unknown place and time.  What we do know is this:  It’s not a pipsqueak edit version from a live album.  This is a full-on 10 minute recording with all the extended bells and whistles.

Opening with the usual backwards vocals (“We’re fighting for the gods of war” in reverse), “Rocket” is a Rick Allen vehicle.  It’s endurance.  The drums are a main feature, but Screamin’ Joe Elliott doesn’t take a back seat to anyone.  Still, by the 3:30 mark it’s the Rick Allen show.  Soon he’s accompanied by Rick Savage on bass, before the guitar solos begin.  Phil Collen goes first followed by Vivian Campbell, in a call & response series of licks.  Together the two weave notes and squeals into a tapestry of cool, with Vivian going full metal into speed and tapping.

Around 7:50, Joe surprises the crowd by going into “Whole Lotta Love”.  “You need coolin’, baby I ain’t foolin’,” with guitars that replicate what Jimmy Page might have done had he been on stage that night.  Back into “Rocket” for the finale, the whole thing works from start to finish as if it wasn’t 10 minutes long but maybe half that.  A valuable B-side for your collection, just spectacular stuff.

The A-side is hit or miss.  “C’Mon C’Mon” was in the vein of that “Pour Some Sugar” sound, ultimately derived from Gary Glitter.   It’s…well, to overuse a phrase, “it is what it is”.  Def Leppard are always going to have this kind of song in their repertoire.  It’s not bad, just nothing new.  Performance-wise, Rick Allen is once again a champion.  The guitars have a really sweet crunch.  It’s a great sounding single, just an unnecessary direction to keep toiling away at.

3.5/5 stars

Next:  Leppard goes country with…yes, we’re at that point now…with Taylor Swift.

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah! – Record Store Tales
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge

Next:

36. CMT Crossroads (DVD with Taylor Swift)
37. B-Sides
38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Virginia Beach 2004 (2022)

 – Off the Soundboard – Live in Virginia Beach (July 25, 2004 – 2022 Universal)

Some might question the logic of releasing a 2004 live release with the Stanley/Singer/Simmons/Thayer lineup in the official Kiss bootleg series.  Necessary?  We already have live material from this lineup, such as Kiss Rocks Vegas.  Fans could be forgiven for skipping this, the second instalment of the Off the Soundboard series of releases.  (It’s a little late now, but it would have been cool if Kiss numbered these releases!)

Opening with a sluggish sounding “Love Gun”, Paul Stanley is in good voice.  The cracks were beginning to show but there is no comparison to the Paul of today.  If you want vintage Paul, this is not the album for you.  If you want Paul before things went to hell, this is just fine.  Gene goes second with “Deuce”, also sounding a big sluggish.  Eric Singer is busy on drums, which will be either to your taste, or not.

It’s Tommy Thayer who fails to thrill in the night.  Something about his solo work here just falls short of lighting the spark.  It’s one of those things that’s not quite right, on the quantum level.  Your brain knows the solos, knows how they usually sound, and that’s with fire and a touch of reckless abandon.  Say what you will about Tommy Thayer, but nobody uses the word “reckless” to describe his playing.  Ace Frehley, on the other hand, had a song called “Reckless”.  You see where we’re going here.  It’s that touch of professionalism that these solos don’t need.  Tommy is welcome on backing vocals, where he helps thicken things up with Eric, such as on “Lick It Up”.

There are a few tracks here that are played live less often, which is one reason to pick up the disc.  “Makin’ Love”, “Tears Are Falling”, “Got to Choose”, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” and “Unholy” are fun when you get ’em, though “Unholy” always sounds a bit awkward live (Thayer butchers the solo).  One of the best of these tunes is “Got to Choose” which benefits from the backing vocals of the newer Kiss guys.  Creepy as it may be, “Christine Sixteen” is always fun, but Gene doesn’t need to keep augmenting the song with things like “I like it!”  And check out the sly Mott the Hoople melody in “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”!

We could all probably do without “I Love It Loud” at this point.  “War Machine” can be tiring.  As much as we love Eric Singer, he does overplay some songs.  “Shout it Out Loud” has a few fills that just don’t need to be there.  Yet somehow, “Psycho Circus” is refreshing and “King of the Night Time World” is never a bad thing.

There are two lengthy “jammers” on this album that make for good listenin’.  “100,000 Years” and “She” both steam on with the familiar Kiss instrumental bits that you know and love.  “Do you feel alriiiiiight?” screams Paul, and damn, he could still really sing.  Vocally, Kiss were really good at this stage.  Gene was kickin’ ass, Eric and Tommy were the solid backing, and Paul was still 90% there.

This lineup hadn’t been together long, and the members sound more comfortable in their roles today.  You won’t be reaching for Virginia Beach 2004 often when you reach for a live Kiss album.  It’s a good setlist for the most part though, and it’s good to have for that reason.  The sonics are also pretty decent, though obviously short of live album standards.  It’s an official bootleg, not Alive XIII.  You can hear every flaw and mistake, and that’s a good thing.  When you listen understanding that this is indeed 100% live, with Paul Stanley jumping around and his guitar banging erratically, then you realize, shit, Kiss are a pretty damn good live band!  A lot of the set sounds like the billionth time they’ve played the songs…but they don’t sound bored doing it.  There’s not a lot of that looseness, but plenty of excitement.

3.5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008)

Part Thirty-Four of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original Review Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008)

DEF LEPPARD – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (CD Collection Volume 3 Disc 3) (Originally 2008, 2021 remaster)

Finally!  Three misfires in a row (Euphoria, X, Yeah!) and Def Leppard finally had a new album that rocked and was worth listening to again.  While imperfect, the badly-titled new album Songs From the Sparkle Lounge really felt like an actual effort this time.  With the exception of one credit on one song, everything here was written by Def Leppard and only Def Leppard.  And — hallelujah! — no ballads.  What a refreshing turn of events.  A lot of the album was written and recorded on tour.  It seemed like Def Leppard were really listening to the fans who said “We’re tired of pop and ballads.  Please, write us a rock record again like you used to.”

We mostly got it.

Of course, in the press Leppard exaggerated as they often did, comparing the album to High ‘N’ Dry, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin.  And so, the fans knew not to get their hopes up too high.  The album rocked, but not like that.  The standard version of Sparkle Lounge was a tight eleven tracks, just under 40 minutes.  No bloat.  But let’s get to the elephant in the room first.

When discussing this album, dissenters often point to track 2, the first single “Nine Lives” as the main offender.  As a collaboration with Tim McGraw, it reeks of terrible offences committed by Bon Jovi earlier in the decade.  In order to find new success, too many rock bands went to Nashville for fresh names and influences.  Fortunately, Japanese fans were able to buy a version of the album including the song without Tim McGraw, and just Joe Elliott ripping the lead vocals.  That is definitely a preferred experience.  McGraw’s voice makes it sound…not like Def Leppard!  The two worlds simply do not mesh.  Fortunately “Nine Lives” is not a country song, but a hard rocker with a slight twang in the electric guitars.  It’s actually a pretty good song, when you edit Tim out.  So there’s that.

However, opening Songs From the Sparkle Lounge is a song you can only describe as “real” Def Leppard!  Combining the loopy vibe of the Slang era with the riffiness of Pyromania, “Go” is out of the gates on the right note.  It slams.  Heavy, modern, guitar-heavy and hooky without pandering to trends.  It merely combines some of Leppard’s best and heaviest ingredients in a modern way.  The only critique would be the title.  “Go” is a word that Leppard overuse.  “Go”, “Let’s Go”, “Gotta Let It Go”, “Let It Go”…just too much “going” on!

After “Go”, you have to sit through the Tim McGraw song before we’re back to tunes with integrity.  The glam rock “C’Mon C’Mon” was in the vein of that “Pour Some Sugar” sound, ultimately derived from Gary Glitter.   It too was a single (to be discussed next time) and sits comfortably in the Hysteria-style box.  Not exactly like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin as Joe claimed, but not a bad track if a bit too much like a sequel.

“Love” written by Rick Savage was an important tune and surprisingly the longest at 4:17.  It’s the one that they called “not a ballad” and you can get where they were coming from.  Yes there’s a soft acoustic intro but the song is bigger and more dramatic than the average ballad.  A big heavy chunky section rises towards the end.  The acoustic version on the Japanese release could fairly be pigeonholed as a ballad, but the standard album cut it more like Leppard meets Queen.  Freddie and the boys seem to be the biggest influence on “Love”, especially vocally.

Phil Collen wrote “Tomorrow” which is one of the most pop of the tunes, sort of in an Adrenalize mold.  The chorus is solid and there’s a nice guitar part to bite into.  Not a highlight but not a throwaway.  Just a good hard rock tune that sounds great in the car come chorus time.

Vivian Campbell contributed the low groove of “Cruise Control”, whose bassline is the main feature, rolling and churning beneath the song.  Interesting tune with some truly great and adventurous guitar playing from Viv.  Playing for feel and not speed.  But the band reverts to their standard form again on the uptempo rocker “Hallucinate”.  Though the hooks sound like you’ve heard ’em all before, they’re all welcome to return on this great track.

Another solid song, “Only the Good Die Young”, boasts some mellotron that always seems to recall the Beatles.  Not a constituent part of the average Def Leppard rocker, but an enhancement that works well here.  Joe ever references a “diamond in the sky” so it’s probably not coincidence.  A good tune made better by stepping just slightly outside the box without destroying the box.

Joe’s “Bad Actress” is by far the hardest rocker on the album, going full speed ahead to a place that Leppard had not gone in many years.  Pure heavy and reckless rock, pedal to the metal, just givin’ ‘er as much as there is in the gas tank.  This, yes this, is what fans had been begging for!  Something that really drives but still sounds like Def Leppard.  Something that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place in the early years.  Finally, we got “Bad Actress” out of them!

The penultimate track “Come Undone” slows it back down to a deliberate 90s pace.  Decent album track, but might have been considered filler in an earlier age.  Unfortunately, it’s just one of those easy to forget second-last album tracks.

Fortunately, Leppard saved the best track for last:  “Gotta Let It Go”, which rocks so hard on the chorus that it might just rip your head off.  This Vivian contribution opens with deceivingly soft drum programs before absolutely exploding on the epic chorus.  It’s a brilliant slice of songwriting from the Irish rock wizard, and the way the lead and backing vocals overlap on the chorus is just the kind of thing Def Leppard do so exceptionally well.  An absolute triumph that leaves a sweet taste in the mouth when the album is complete.  This kind of closer invites repeat listens.

Sparkle Lounge ends as it began:  rocking.

Fortunately for Def Leppard, a young American fan of both them and Tim McGraw was hitting brand new heights in her fresh solo career.  At just 19 years old, she was born while Def Leppard were still the biggest rock band in the universe.  So, leaning even further into country music, Def Leppard would gain a lot of attention from a new younger crowd thanks to their big fan Taylor Swift.  It seemed a strange move for Leppard to make while they were just starting to rock again, but we’ll discuss the Swift collaboration in a future instalment.

Though Songs From the Sparkle Lounge does contain some fillers and some cuts that fail to stick in the memory, there are no outright “deletes” except arguably the McGraw track.  It doesn’t even fit with the vibe of the album.  The Leppard version should have been in the main album sequence, with the McGraw version as a bonus track and single in special markets.  Guaranteed, this album would be better remembered if that was the case.

3.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah! – Record Store Tales

Next:

35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (12″ picture disc)
36. CMT Crossroads (DVD with Taylor Swift)
37. B-Sides
38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings

#998: Yeah…Nah!

Part Thirty-Three of the Def Leppard Review Series

There comes in a time in many, but not all, bands’ lives.  Its a fan moment, not a band moment, but just as important.  It’s the point in time when a fan starts losing interest.  Every fan has their own reasons.  I can chart the trajectory of my own Def Leppard love on a graph.

In grades 10 and 11, when Hysteria was at its peak, Def Leppard were my favourite band.  I cut them some slack for the lack of anything truly new on Adrenalize, given what the band had endured to get there.  Slang was the spiritual successor to Hysteria, returning to musical experimentation and dramatic change.  But it didn’t catch on, so Leppard were forced to contrive a “return to roots” on Euphoria, which failed to resonate with me.  The X debacle with all the boy-band pretensions was a right turnoff.  Only on Sparkle Lounge did the trajectory start to return in the right direction.

But…it was not the same.  A trust had been broken.  The band that I had loved in highschool (when my previous favourite band, Kiss, made some dubious direction choices in the late 80s) had taken some serious detours over the years that left me unsure.  As much as Kiss had let the quality slide themselves, I had a hard time forgiving Def Leppard over X.  And I don’t think that feeling from the before-fore times ever really comes back.

The Taylor Swift thing was like a reminder.  “Def Leppard are going to do things that you don’t like much.”  Nothing against Taylor who has her own style of art.  There is an entire demographic of fans that are not going to listen to a collaboration with Taylor Swift.  Many of them are reading this now.  Meanwhile, there are fans who have delighted to one degree or another in every twist and turn in the Def Leppard discography.  And that’s fine too.  There is no right or wrong.  It’s only fair for you to know where the head of the reviewer is.  This is your disclaimer.

Because of my love for this band, I’ll always give them a fair shot.  I just won’t always care.  And that’s the big difference.  Def Leppard went from a band that I cared deeply about, to one that I was buying music from out of routine instead of passion.  Similarly, with these reviews, they are being written out of diligence and not a place of deep commitment.  It is becoming harder work, so beware!

Thanks to Holen for the inspiration

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews

Next:

34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge